Losses on the Home Front in American History

Civil Liberties During War

Losses on the Home Front in American History

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We — we Americans, that is — like to think of ourselves as decent people. People who respect the rights of others. People who believe that what we are fighting for when we go to war is to protect democracy and the civil liberties of all of the people of our great and worthy nation.

And yet.

And yet when we go to war terrible things often happen at home. Not the grief of families who have learned that one of their loved ones has been killed. (Although of course this is common.) Not the privations of a country at war. (Although this too happens, although not during the current one.) But what is most terrible is the suspension of basic rights, the abrogation of essential liberties, the destruction of the social contract that should exist among all Americans and between all Americans and our government. Abraham Lincoln broke the rules of the Republic that he swore that he was trying to save. Franklin Roosevelt helped to save the war, but ordered Japanese-Americans to be relocated. George W. Bush talked of being compassionate and a Christian, but agreed with seeming glee to the warrant-less wiretapping of Americans and the torture of prisoners of war.

In the paper I examine the ways in which American civil liberties have been consistently abridged during wartime and what the fact that these violations occur with such frequency says about the nature of our democracy. And of democracy in general, for the United States is hardly alone in having one set of rules for peace and another for war. Perhaps this should not surprise us, for while war brings out the best in some people, it brings out the worse in others. At home as well as on the battlefield.

Civil Liberties and Uncivil Times

War pits our strongest, basest needs for land, or power, or privilege, against the weak and fragile framework of law. The rule of law is like an ecosystem — internally unbreakable, but unbelievably delicate and easily upset by any outside force. The first casualty of war is no soldier, nor even our collective sanity, as some have said, but obedience to the law. Specifically the government’s obedience to the laws that concern those rights the government has so sincerely promised to each one of us as citizens and residents. This essay seeks to explicate what happens to the rule law during wartime, and more particularly to examine the ways in which civil liberties (that we so often take for granted during peacetime) fall like bodies pierced by bullets during a sneak dawn attack.

A good example of what tends to happen with civil liberties during wartime — and to whom it happens — is theJapanese internment camps of World War II. Wartime brings out the best and the worst in humanity — soldiers become heroes or rapists, generals are revealed as brilliant leaders or tyrants. And the people making laws and waiting at home are as prone to excess as those in the trenches (though with considerably less excuse). I will expand on this subject later, looking at more of the legal and political details of what happened to Japanese-Americans. But I would like to describe here briefly what happened to the Japanese as a way of providing a model for what has been the norm in the United States during war.

In 1942, the United States government began a process of involuntary internment of Japanese and Japanese-descended individuals. This terrible policy affected 125,000 individuals, and was not entirely rescinded until 1945. During that time, Japanese residents in the United States and Japanese-Americans citizens were forcibly removed from their homes, had their materials possessions confiscated, and were subjected to inhumane conditions in internment camps.

The living conditions in the concentration camps were often unsanitary, with families living in hastily constructed barracks near open sewers. Toilets were shared by everyone in the camp and had little or no privacy. Meals provided to the Japanese were meager and caused a great deal of malnourishment. Despite these poor conditions, programs were eventually put into place that improved the condition of the camps and allowed the prisoners to work for small wages.

The broad streak of tragedy in this story is what has persisted in the minds of Americans — the pictures of hopeless, thin children, of empty-eyed old men, of young women with fear writ starkly in every line of their bodies — but the legal and political implications of the camps is even more disturbing because the deportation of Japanese-Americans (along with the range of other abridgments of civil liberties that have occurred during wartime across the breadth of American history during wartime) violate the basic democratic structure and culture of our nation in two distinct ways.

Two different types of liberties were stolen from the Japanese-Americans during World War II (and since we are all connected to each other in a democracy, the rest of the country was damaged too, albeit in more indirect and less immediately pernicious ways). The liberties guaranteed to all citizens (and to a lesser extent to all residents of the country) by both the Constitution and the Enlightenment humanistic moral code upon which our nation is based were tossed out the window during that cold February of 1942. They gave way in the face of fear and racism.

It is commonly assumed that the laws of the United States emanate from the Constitution — and this is indeed an explicit part of our culture. A large part of what Americans — or at least those Americans who are cognizant of our political history — consider to be our heritage and mutual culture is based upon the idea and the reality of the Constitution. In a nation as diverse as ours, with its wave upon wave of immigrants, the Constitution binds us all together, reminding us that although we have come from different places, once we arrive in this country we have a common legal, political, and social destination. And it is true that some laws are a natural extension of the framework set forth so long ago.

But the Constitution simply codified a deeper sense of law (and order) and liberty. The Constitution is an intermediary form between the vast collection of local and state and federal laws and the basis and instigation for all law — in all cultures. The basis for all law is a combination of the fear and the collective moral code of a people. Our laws are expressions of our culture’s standards, ideals, and nightmares.

We tend to believe that our laws are anchored in — and grow organically from — the Constitution. And we tend to want to believe that our laws do not arise from (or take nourishment from) such basic human desires as our inclination to distrust and even punish those are different — and therefore threatening. This phenomenon is not unique to the United States: It is a human-wide condition. The purposes of law are twofold: To prevent anarchy, and to impose cultural standards. The causes are twofold as well: Law springs from both fear and morality. Therefore the answer to the question, “What happens to civil liberties during wartime?” lies in another question: How does war affect the fear and ethical code of a people?

Effects of War on the Human Condition

Broadly speaking, war has three major effects on a people. It increases the level of fear. It makes us even more inclined to be binary thinkers who see the world in terms of “us” and “them.” And it turns us into dehumanized beasts and moralizing prigs. Given that these general trends occur across time and place, it seems likely that they are a part of our biological heritage as humans. Indeed, there are sound evolutionary arguments to be made about the usefulness of racism and xenophobia, as is outlined in the following description of how segregation between different groups probably had a high survival value in the early millennia of human development.

Mark Pagel of Reading University and Ruth Mace of University College London believe this aversion to strangers was more than simply protecting territory but a way of ensuring the greatest degree of altruistic co-operation within a social group. Such behaviour could explain why humans are so culturally diverse, because shunning outsiders would lead to the evolution of different languages and traditions which tend to reinforce differences between tribes and ethnic groups.

If our human tendency to distrust those who are not like us arises from a general fear of outsiders’ motivations and actions it seems all too likely that racism and xenophobia will increase during war. And this will occur even to the extent that people will be willing to overlook the violation of basic civil rights and the foundations of law. Americans are generally (I believe) inclined to value the law and to look to ways to uphold it because our democratic traditions are so important to us. However, during war it becomes all too easy to look for convenient ways to disregard even the most important laws.

The first, and most dramatic, effect of war is to increase the general fearfulness of a population. Fear and anxiety rocket way up during wartime, and are fueled by all the myriad effects of such conflicts. But another, less-well-understood reaction to war on the part of a both the individual and the nation (and, again, this is not a phenomenon that is in any way unique to the United States) is a marked increase in binary thinking. Humans are programmed to think in oppositionally defined, polar pairs and this is something that we do all the time.

But during fear-producing times, this tendency is greatly exacerbated. In peacetime, people are likely to find it easier to consider nuances and shades of meaning, but during armed conflict, no such nuance can be tolerated. War underscores and heightens the human biological inclination to see everything in terms of black and white. We see the “other” during war not only as the enemy but as people who are so different from us, It is as if there is visceral recognition of the relationships engendered in war. War brings into the clearest focus a classic binary pair, and that reinforces natural human thought patterns. Indeed, peace can in some sense be seen as being less natural than war.

Not only does war tend to throw the sanest individual into “us-versus-them” polar thinking, it makes the definition of “us” much narrower, and the definition of “them” much broader. During times of state-level violence, only the most powerful and most privileged citizens of a culture get to retain their legitimacy. What is more, everyone who doesn’t fit into the newer, more exacting standards of “us” and more and more people get tossed into the pile of “them.” And related to this division is the fact that those categorized as “them” during war all too often have their civil liberties denied.

So what specifically does all this mean in terms of civil liberties in U.S. history? In the United States, this tendency to de-humanize the “other” or the “them” during wartime has lead to laws that take away rights from particularity feared groups of people. Secondly, there has is the tendency for laws to give even greater power to those most clearly and easily defined as “us.”

Which brings us back to the Japanese-American internment camps. In this case, a feared ethnicity was deprived of a very essential civil right. But that is not the entire story, nor even the most relevant part, politically speaking. Because those unfortunate individual’s freedoms did not just go away, they were instead transferred to those who already had much more power. This phenomenon is by no means unique. It is in fact an entirely representative happening: The slave-enemies of Rome, the banished Jews of war-torn Spain, the murdered French in the civil wars of England. All are representative of this horrible inclination on the part of the powerful and the populace alike to blame any handy minority for the vicissitudes of war — or even for its instigation.

But What Is a Civil Liberty Anyway?

In a general sense, civil liberties are the rights that protect each individual from over-reaching on the part of the government. In other words, civil liberties are the residue of freedoms that people have — those freedoms and rights that the Tenth Amendment says are reserved to the people rather than claimed by the government. Civil liberties constrain the government from interfering more than is necessary for the protection of the public good in the lives of individuals.

Different nations at different historical moments define different rights as being basic civil liberties. For the United States since its inception, the central civil liberties have been considered to be the following: freedom of expression, freedom of speech, the right to due process and a fair trial, the right to own property, and the right to privacy. Other civil liberties are derived from these and as such are also considered to be fundamental rights. For example, U.S. courts have traditionally held that women have the right to make reproductive choices (including the right to both birth control and abortions and the right to be free of coerced sterilization). This right is derived from the right to privacy — a right that is itself derived both from common law and from other rights that are spelled out in the Constitution.

Another way of looking at this is to note that traditionally “civil liberties” in the United States have been defined as being primarily those rights and liberties that are enumerated in the First Amendment of the Constitution. It should be noted that while in a philosophical way civil liberties are related to civil rights, there are important distinctions, with civil liberties being more fundamental. (Although it is also essential to note that both civil liberties and civil rights are often abridged during wartime.)

Civil liberties n. rights or freedoms given to the people by the First Amendment to the Constitution, by common law, or legislation, allowing the individual to be free to speak, think, assemble, organize, worship, or petition without government (or even private) interference or restraints. These liberties are protective in nature, while civil rights form a broader concept and include positive elements such as the right to use facilities, the right to an equal education, or the right to participate in government.

It should be clear from the above description why civil liberties are so essential to the vitality of a democracy. But it should also be clear how convenient it might be for governments to be able to set aside these liberties during war. Without these liberties maintained by its citizens, governments have a far easier time in disguising what they are doing — sometimes a very helpful thing to a government during war.

The Alien and Sedition Acts

One of the greatest ironies of American history is that even as an infant country we were already abridging the freedoms that we were fighting for. In 1796, the U.S. Congress passed a series of laws known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts. President John Adams signed the acts into law, using as an excuse the potential for French military action against the United States. The United States was not at war — and as we know would never go to war with France — but the federal government used the possibility of war to enact laws that in retrospect cannot be seen as anything but grievous breaches of our constitutionally protected rights.

In other words, Adams (with the full consent and even encouragement of the Congress) used a potential (albeit very unlikely) foreign threat as an excuse to limit freedoms at home. The following description of the Alien and Sedition Acts could in many ways be substituted for a description of the U.S. Patriot Act.

No protesting the government? No immigrants allowed in? No freedom of the press. Lawmakers jailed? Is this the story of the Soviet Union during the Cold War?

No. It describes the United States in 1798 after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

The most controversial of the new laws permitting strong government control over individual actions was the Sedition Act. In essence, this Act prohibited public opposition to the government. Fines and imprisonment could be used against those who “write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government.

The Federalists took advantage of the laws to send dozens of Republican newspaper (Federalists and Republicans were the two primary political parties at the time) to jail. A congressional representative — Matthew Lyon from Vermont — was also arrested when he criticized John Adams for his “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice.” His constituents back in Vermont reelected him from jail, demonstrating the fact that they at least understood what the First Amendment said.

It is salutary to remember that while three of the four separate laws that make up the Alien and Sedition Acts either expired or were repealed within a few years of their enactment, one of them remains in force today: The Act Respecting Alien Enemies gave the president the power to authorize the arrest and deportation of resident aliens (even if they were in the United States legally and done nothing wrong themselves) if their home countries and the United States were at war.

The War of 1812

The War of 1812 was relatively free of the kinds of civil liberties abuses that were so rampant during other American wars. Why this should be the case is a little puzzling, since the war was very unpopular, and unpopular wars promote dissent — which in turn tend to prompt government attempts to restrict dissent. It would be comforting to believe that the nation had learned its lesson after the Alien and Sedition Acts. However, as will be clear after the description of civil liberties violations in the Civil War, this was clearly not the case.

It was true, however, that except for the 1814 martial takeover of the city of New Orleans by General Andrew Jackson, that basic rights such as a free press, the right to assemble, freedom of expression, the rights surrounding trial (such as the right of habeas corpus) were almost universally respected during the War of 1812.. In may indeed be that Americans had had time to internalize the rights of the Constitution. In the 1790s perhaps these rights were so new (and perhaps too little understood by most Americans) that people were less capable of or inclined to defend them. By the second decade of the nineteenth century, these rights had become something fundamental to people’s sense of what it meant to be an American.

Whatever it was that determined that Americans would not waive their most fundamental rights during the War of 1812 had passed away by the time of the Civil War. Of course, part of the reasons that essential liberties were penned away by Abraham Lincoln was that the Civil War presented a far greater danger to the nation than was present during the war of 1812. But it seems to me that it may also have been the case that by the 1860s Americans had become a little too complacent about civil liberties. For in a war that was filled with the rhetoric (and to a slightly lesser extent the reality) of freedom, a great deal of liberty was muffled.

The Great Emancipator

Abraham Lincoln — called the Great Emancipator for having helped to end slavery — is usually seen as second in importance in the panoply of American presidents only after George Washington. He is seen, in the version of American history that schoolchildren learn, as the savior of our nation. And yet he — like leaders before and after him — took actions that abrogated essential civil rights, including allowing summary arrests, giving military courts authority in civil arenas, and — most importantly — suspending the writ of habeas corpus. This right is an important one in any country, but it has especial resonance (or at least it should) for Americans since the British king’s tendency to suspend just this same right was one of the important grievances that the colonists had against King George. And yet — although Americans had gone to war in part because they felt that the right to habeas corpus was close to a sacred right — they acquiesced to Lincoln’s suspension of it.

To understand why Lincoln’s action was such a serious one, it is essential to understand the nature of the right of the writ of habeas corpus. The Latin phrase can be translated as “you may have the body of” and refers the right (long recognized in English common law — as well as in other common law traditions) that a person has to appear before a judge before he or she is imprisoned. Traditionally, when a person was imprisoned, a judge would send a “writ” (simply a written legal document) to have the prisoner brought before him (or her). The prisoner would then be brought before the judge, at which time the judge would determine whether or not the person was being held legally.

When the “privilege of the writ of habeas corpus” is revoked or suspended, then a person can be held indefinitely without a trial. The Framers of the Constitution found this to be such an important right that it was the only common law tradition that was explicitly written into the Constitution. This right is described Article 1, Section 9, which reads: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”

Lincoln argued that the Civil War was precisely the kind of situation that allowed for — and even demanded — that habeas corpus be suspended. This allowed military and civil officials to arrest people and keep them incarcerated for as long as they pleased.

Several times during the war, Lincoln or his Cabinet officers issued orders suspending the writ. The first came early in his presidency. Lincoln had been in office for barely a month when Confederate troops attacked the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in April 1861, starting the Civil War. & #8230; On April 19, 20,000 Confederate sympathizers in Baltimore tried to stop Union troops from traveling from one train station to another en route to Washington, causing a riot. So on April 27 Lincoln suspended the habeas corpus privilege on points along the Philadelphia-Washington route. That meant Union generals could arrest and detain without trial anyone in the area who threatened “public safety.”

What followed Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was arguably a disaster in terms of civil liberties: Lincoln had given too much power to people who took advantage of the war to use their power for personal revenge. Good laws are drawn in the narrowest possible terms for a reason: People’s freedoms should be abridged by their democratic government only to the extent that is required for public safety (although this may be defined in a very broad sense to include protected the civil rights of minorities). Lincoln pushed the extension of what was a necessary detention far beyond the reasonable, giving to individual local officials the power to decide — on any basis whatsoever — who was loyal to the Union and who was not. This allowed not only for honest bad judgment on the part of officials, but the settling of personal grievances.

Moreover, not only did Lincoln’s action allow for the suspension of habeas corpus, but it also allowed for the abridgment of First Amendment rights such as freedom of expression.

The exceedingly broad mandate precipitated a civil liberties disaster. It allowed local sheriffs and constables to decide arbitrarily who was loyal or disloyal, without even considering the administration’s main goal of enforcing the draft. At least 350 people were arrested in the following month, an all-time high. Some of the accused had done nothing worse than bad-mouth the president. (That was also true before Aug. 8. On Aug. 6, for example, Union Gen. Henry Halleck arrested one Missourian for saying, “[I] wouldn’t wipe my ass with the stars and stripes.)?

Lincoln was indeed instrumental in helping the country overcome the terrible practice of slavery. He had both the military and civil vision to be able to guide the nation through some of its darkest times. And yet he also damaged the nation that he no doubt loved greatly. When Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth cried “Sic semper tyrannis” (Thus always to tyrants”) he was entirely wrong in his action, but not so in his assessment.

The Great War and World War II

World War I — or as it was called before there was a Second World War, when it was still the war to end all wars — saw the same kind of abridgments of civil liberties that had occurred in the 1790s and again in the Civil War.

The Committee on Public Information propaganda effectively cast Germans as evil force in World War I. There was another round of laws designed to suppress freedom of expression and freedom of the press. This time around the group of laws was called the “Espionage and Sedition Acts” and were a collection of vague laws (vagueness in the wording of laws should serve as a red flag that the government may well be attempted to infringe basic rights) that allowed the federal government the authority to prosecute — and persecute — anyone who was critical of the war. Thousands of people were accused of sedition and disloyalty and — perhaps most disillusioning of all, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld these violations of civil liberties by arguing that free speech can be abridged if a statement presents a “clear and present danger.” This idea is properly applied to something like (also in the words of the Supreme Court) “shouting fire in a crowded theater.”

The following description of Wilson’s crackdown on civil liberties demonstrates how it presaged the actions that George W. Bush would take during his endless War on Terror.

Wilson portrayed World War I as a moral absolute. And because the United States was involved in a crusade to do absolute good, any criticism or opposition to government policies quickly became perceived as evil. In his superb new book….

Wilson twisted the facts to portray a U.S. war against Germany as a battle of good vs. evil. In the same way that Bush portrays terrorists as the worst and most implacable enemies of freedom, Wilson denounced the German government as “the natural foe to liberty.” Wilson portrayed submarine warfare as a crime against humanity — similar to Bush’s portrayal of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

An important element of the ways in which civil liberties have been violated during wartime is that among the groups must severely affected have often been immigrants. I have already discussed how this happened during the 1790s — and noted that the only one of the Alien and Sedition Acts that remains law is the one that allows immigrants to be deported essentially without cause. Despite the fact that Americans are in many ways proud of our nation as being a draw to immigrants from around the world, there has also been since the beginning of our nation a very uneasy relationship with new immigrants. Both the American government and many elements of the American citizenry have at a number of points during American history become what it hard not to see as paranoid about the effects that new immigrants would have on “real” American values. Immigrants have been seen as a threat to “us,” bearing with them the potential to dilute, even to poison, what is essentially American. As had been the case in the eighteenth century, during World War I, immigrants once again became convenient bogeymen a range of ills at home. And as either non-citizens of the United States or just-barely-citizens, they proved easy to attack. This would again prove to be true in World War II.

As discussed above, World War II saw significant violations of civil liberties. Indeed, the relocation of Japanese-Americans living in the western United States is probably the best known of the historical record of the ways in which war has eroded American ideals. Japanese-Americans (and Japanese citizens living in the United States) were easy victims. Already suspect, and in many cases overtly hated because of their race and the fact that they were usually not Christians, they were easily identifiable as “looking like the enemy.” (It is important to note that Germans and German-Americans were also placed in relocation camps, although the numbers involved here were in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands.)?

The fact that Japan had acted dishonorably made all things and people associated with Japan easy to be angry at. This combined with what seems like an almost instinctual push to limit liberty during the time of war made it almost inevitable that tens of thousands of Japanese-American residents and citizens would be essentially imprisoned after the attack on Pearl Harbor — despite the deep loyalty and patriotism of nearly all Japanese-Americans.

Although it does not in any significant way mitigate the gross violation of civil liberties that the relocation of Japanese-American embodied, it is important to note that the places where they lived were not, as they are now called not infrequently, concentration camps. Japanese-Americans were done a terrible disservice, but they were not the victims of genocide. Japanese-Americans were, in fact allowed to leave the camps if they had a sponsor. True, of course, this is still a dark phase of American history. But Manzanar was not Bergen-Belsen.

We’ll Fight Them Over There

It should be clear by now that the United States has a very poor record when it comes to respecting the basic civil liberties that gave birth to our nation when we are at war with enemies either foreign or domestic. It is terribly ironic that at the very moments in history when the country is asking young people to risk their lives in defense of civil liberties we are at the same time throwing people in jail, seizing their property and their homes, defaming them, ruining their reputations — and their lives. And the worst of it is that we, as a nation, as a democracy, have learned so little from each descent into what has been our government’s brushes with fascism.

The actions of the Bush Administration demonstrate beyond any possibility of a doubt that the federal government will use war as an opportunity — even as an excuse — to silence those who oppose it. It may be that each administration that has done this in the length of our history has believed that it is not making an excuse but rather acting in the only way possible to protect the nation’s security and its future. But it seems to me, after studying about the ways in which different administrations and parties have so substantially limited individual freedoms, that the best explanation for why our government has curtailed freedoms whenever we are at war (even if the war is as unbounded and even in some ways metaphorical as the “war on terror”) is that — as Orwell tells us — power corrupts.

War presents those in power with the chance to take more power for themselves than our system of governance and our basic cultural values would usually allow. And time again our leaders (and we ourselves as a people, because in a democracy we are all responsible) have allowed the country to shrink liberty at home even while Americans abroad have been dying to protect “the land of the free.”

The current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and in much greater measure the formless War on Terror in which these two, non-virtual wars are being fought — were used by the Bush Administration as an excuse to violate a wide range of basic American freedoms and beliefs. The federal government listened in on the phone calls of American citizens without any judge’s having issued a warrant. Prisoners in Iraq were tortured — indeed given “cruel and unusual punishments,” Prisoners in Cuba are still being held without trial, in clear violation of the write of habeas corpus.

The following polemic seems perfectly justified:

Only July 17th, President Bush signed a new executive order that will become a law in mid-August unless Congress challenges it. The new law will allow the government to seize the property, cash, bank accounts, businesses, and every item owned by any U.S. citizen who is deemed a threat to the stabilization of Iraq, our so-called first line in the war on terrorism. The kicker in the new executive order is that the Secretary of the Treasury will decide if someone is a threat, and that they do not have to carry out any behavior against the government, just be deemed a threat and they will lose everything and have no legal recourse to appeal.

Citizens who are publicly calling for impeachment are being arrested. Recently a suburban Chicago couple was arrested and charged with multiple crimes for displaying a sign that said “Impeach Bush and Cheney – Liars!.” A North Carolina man was arrested for hanging a U.S. flag upside down on his porch with a sign that said “Impeach Bush.”

According to the White House, U.S. citizens have become the enemy. We are losing our rights to free speech and privacy, all in the name of a phantom war on terrorism that results in few convictions and instead brings widespread harassment to innocent Americans.

Barack Obama has begun to reverse many of the most egregious violations of civil liberties that were put into place by the Bush Administration, although a number of civil libertarians remain concerned that there are still prisoners awaiting trial in Cuba and it is not entirely clear that the system of “rendition” in which prisoners were taken from their place of capture to countries that have no problem whatsoever in torturing people has been entirely dismantled. But it does seem clear that — at least so far — things are getting better.

The Bush Administration will be remembered as one of the worst in American history in terms of its willingness (and even eagerness) to retrench fundamental civil liberties during war. Indeed I have a great deal of sympathy for those who argue that Bush’s “War on Terror” (which, of course, has some basis in reality in the 9/11 attacks) was in large measure something of a conjuring act, a feat of legerdemain that the Bush Administration used to institute methods of suppression that it had come into office desperate to do. Obama has so far worked to pull us back from this particular brink.

It may be possible that we have learned something from our history, as the following suggests:

[Some have argued] the “unthinkability” of prosecuting someone (say, Howard Dean) for his opposition to the war in Iraq today shows that the nation has advanced. Perhaps, but maybe the “unthinkability” is due only to the fact that in 2004 the opponents of the war were powerful persons whose prosecution would exact a heavy political cost upon the government. If there were a widespread consensus in favor of a future war and the only opponents were a few isolated bloggers, are we certain that the government wouldn’t find some grounds for trying to silence them?

I would like to believe that we have indeed, finally, learned our lessons. That we are strong enough and secure enough and wise enough as a nation and a people never again to use the terrible circumstances of war to deny the basic rights that draw people to this nation (and always have) and that inspire people to put their lives on their line (as they have always done).

But I am not in any way convinced that this is the case. Each time we as a nation have gone through a war during which liberty was trampled we promise that this was the last time. Scout’s honor.

And yet.

List of References

Alien and Sedition Acts, http://www.ushistory.org/us/19e.asp. Accessed 3 December 2009.

James Bovard, 2003, October. Wilson’s Crusade and Bush’s Crusade. http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0310c.asp. Accessed 3 December 2009.

Steve Connor. Racism and xenophobia linked to biological fear of outsiders in Stone Age. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/racism-and-xenophobia-linked-to-biological-fear-of-outsiders-in-stone-age-566708.html. Accessed 2009 28 November.

Dean Dooley, n.d. Does the war on terror threaten civil liberties in the U.S. http://www.helium.com/items/501123-does-the-war-on-terror-threaten-civil-liberties-in-the-us. Accessed 2009 4 December.

Jonathan Dunder, 2003. Freedom Under Fire. http://www.aclu.org/national-security/freedom-under-fire-dissent-post-911-america. Accessed 2 December 2009.

David Greenberg, 2001. Lincoln’s Crackdown. Suspects jailed. No charges filed. Sound familiar?. http://www.slate.com/id/2059132/, Accessed 2009 29 November

Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. “Civil Liberties. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/civil+liberties. Accessed 1 December 2009..

Arthur Jacobs, 2009. World War II – The internment of German-American civilians. http://www.foitimes.com/. Accessed 2009 December 2.

George C. Leef., 2006, January 2. Wartime Attacks on Civil Liberties. http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0512g.asp. Accessed 2009 November 30.

Rosenfeld, Richard N., 1997. American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns: The Suppressed History of Our Nation’s Beginnings and the Heroic Newspaper That Tried to Report It. New York: St. Martin’s.

Robert Walker, 2006. Habeas Corpus Writ of Liberty: English and American Origins and Development. New York: Book Surge Press.

Jonathan Dunder, 2003. Freedom Under Fire. http://www.aclu.org/national-security/freedom-under-fire-dissent-post-911-america. Accessed 2 December 2009.

Steve Connor. Racism and xenophobia linked to biological fear of outsiders in Stone Age. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/racism-and-xenophobia-linked-to-biological-fear-of-outsiders-in-stone-age-566708.html. Accessed 2009 28 November.

Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. “Civil Liberties. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/civil+liberties. Accessed 1 December 2009.

Alien and Sedition Acts, http://www.ushistory.org/us/19e.asp. Accessed 3 December 2009.


Rosenfeld, Richard N., 1997. American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns: The Suppressed History of Our Nation’s Beginnings and the Heroic Newspaper That Tried to Report It. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

George C. Leef., 2006, January 2. Wartime Attacks on Civil Liberties. http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0512g.asp. Accessed 2009 November 30.

Reginald C. Stuart, 2008. Civil-Military Relations During the War of 1812. New York: ABC-CLIO.

Robert Walker, 2006. Habeas Corpus Writ of Liberty: English and American Origins and Development. New York: Book Surge Press, 13.

Ibid., 27.

David Greenberg, 2001. Lincoln’s Crackdown. Suspects jailed. No charges filed. Sound familiar?. http://www.slate.com/id/2059132/, Accessed 2009 29 November.

Greenberg, op.cit.

James Bovard, 2003, October. Wilson’s Crusade and Bush’s Crusade. http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0310c.asp. Accessed 3 December 2009.


Arthur Jacobs, 2009. World War II – The internment of German-American civilians. http://www.foitimes.com/. Accessed 2009 December 2.

Dean Dooley, n.d. Does the war on terror threaten civil liberties in the U.S. http://www.helium.com/items/501123-does-the-war-on-terror-threaten-civil-liberties-in-the-us. Accessed 2009 4 December.

Leef, op. cit.

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